A perfectly told story about imperfection and all it entails (5 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Virago Press- 2013
I read the hardback edition which was 336 pages
I really love my slowly growing collection of Virago books. Not only do the designer editions look spectacular on my shelves, but they’ve also introduced me to some wonderful female writers previously unknown to me, including the superb Elizabeth Taylor. I adored Mrs Palfrey at The Claremont and A View from the Harbour- and was really excited to begin this one too. I know I always seem to say this as well, but this magnificent cover may be my favourite one so far! 🙂
Fabulous, right? I could seriously see that exquisite Celia Birtwell design adorning a very glam silk scarf.
Angel is a darkly comic novel- and the ultimate tale of rags to riches. Filled with subversive humour, it is a mid-century novel that is partly about romance, but mainly about life. Angel Deverell lives above her mother’s grocery shop in a dreary English town and spends her days harbouring an overactive imagination whereby she us the wealthy mistress of an opulent house. Out of this overactive imagination, her novels are born- and overnight Angel becomes an instant publishing success despite having never ever read a book herself. The novels are pure bilge, lurid and overwrought but that doesn’t stop Angel one iota- she has had a taste of the highlife and soon her fantasy may actually become reality. She will let nothing stand in her way….
This novel gets November off to a great start for me, reading-wise! What I really loved about Angel aside from its premise, was its heroine- or anti-heroine in this case. Angel is just an awful human being, yet makes absolutely no apologies for her behaviour, nor how it impacts upon others, including her downtrodden mother, her disapproving Aunt Lottie and her eventual woman companion, the much put-upon Nora. At times I found myself feeling sorry for her, only to find that quickly turned on its head when her attitude quickly became inexcusable once more. She is completely egoistical and everything is about her- and only her- at least until she meets her future husband. Even then however, she is still utterly selfish on a great majority of occasions and has ideas completely above her station. It’s slightly weird but I sort of admired the fact that she just doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her or how she behaves. She is really the ultimate bitch.
Angel is also possibly one of the dreariest, humourless, most self-delusional characters I have encountered in fiction. Sarcasm goes directly over her head and she has no sense of fun or any real interests- other than herself of course and the daydream world in which she inhabits. She literally cannot emotionally connect with anyone around her. When she becomes a published author and criticism is heaped upon her novels, she merely chooses to ignore the onslaught, burying her head in the sand and convinced that all those against her are simply wrong. Talk about self-denial. Her books are not only poorly written but poorly researched and without any real substance as she is repeatedly told, yet despite this she still proceeds to churn out her useless drivel, convinced that she is a terrific writer. Again, I sort of admired her tenacity in that respect.
The secondary characters are fleshed out well-enough in this book I suppose, but with a star character like Angel given top billing, they all tend to be somewhat overshadowed. Still, I enjoyed getting to know them and felt nothing but pure pity for Angel’s mother. Angel really does treat her deplorably and her mother has only ever tried to do her best for her child, at detriment to herself. Her upbringing above a grocer’s shop rankles Angel however; to the extent where she lies to her school peers about her heritage and later to journalists about the fact that perhaps her late father wasn’t really her dad after all.
Taylor’s writing is extraordinarily exquisite. Not only has she crafted some fabulous characters, but their dialogue and interaction is convincing and the settings are believable. In Angel she has created a ridiculous, irrational monster- and this remains constant throughout the entirety of the story- and yet how I loved her!
If I had to explain the nature of this book in one sentence I would say that it is a perfectly told story about imperfection and all it entails. Angel was truly a wonderful, underrated novel which I think everyone should experience at least once and it has soared immediately into my favourite reads of 2014.